Canton man sentenced to serve life in prison for 2018 beating death of Frederic resident
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 11:52am caleb
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A 37-year-old Canton man showed no emotions or remorse as he was sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering a Frederic man nearly two years ago.
The sentencing for Matthew Franklin Smith was held on Thursday, June 4, via Zoom, an audio and video computer application, as courts in the State of Michigan are holding virtual hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith was in the library area of the Crawford County Jail for his sentencing, being guarded by Deputy Shawn Schnoor and Lt. Michael Gammicchia, the jail administrator for the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
Chief 46th Trial Court Judge George J. Mertz appeared in the Otsego County Circuit Court in Gaylord. Kevin Hesselink, Smith’s defense attorney, also appeared from his office in Gaylord.
Crawford County Prosecutor Sierra R. Koch was present in her office in Grayling, while victim’s services advocate Jodi Potter spoke on behalf of the family of Dennis Everson.
Everson, 64, from Frederic, was reported missing by family members on Friday, July 6, 2018. The family told Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputies that Everson had not been heard from since Monday, July 2.
Smith, Everson, and Dylan Ziegler, 19, of Romulus, were scrapping metal on the days prior to the murder.
Following six hours of deliberations on Friday, February 14 of this year, a jury found Smith guilty of open murder, torture, and unlawful imprisonment.
Typically, defendants are sentenced one month from the date of their conviction. Smith, however, remained in the Crawford County Jail for 111 days before he was sentenced last week. The Michigan Department of Corrections stopped accepting new inmates over fear of spreading the coronavirus, a highly contagious and sometimes deadly respiratory disease, through the prison population.
Mertz gave Smith the opportunity to postpone the sentencing until himself, Hesselink, and Koch could be present in a courtroom. Mertz predicted the earliest that could happen would be in August.
Smith waived his right for an in-person sentencing and said he was ready to proceed.
After a day of working and eating dinner, Ziegler testified at Smith’s trial that Everson came out of his house and punched him in the face. Ziegler and Smith were drinking liquor and smoking marijuana in the truck.
Everson later came out of the house and started yelling derogatory remarks at Smith and spilled beer in his lap, which set Smith off. Smith pulled Everson to the ground by his hair and started beating and kicking him while he was trying to retreat into the house. Smith, with the assistance of Ziegler, loaded Everson into the back of the truck.
Ziegler said Smith told him that they were going to burn Everson or drown him in a lake. Everson was able to escape the bed of the truck, but was grabbed and beaten by Smith a second time.
Everson was taken to a nearby property, where scrap metal was stored and a camping trailer was parked. Smith attempted to start the trailer on fire, but Everson was able to put the fire out. Smith then propped the door of the trailer shut with a two by four board.
Smith drove his truck on a trail leading away from the camper. Ziegler said that Smith retrieved something from the back of truck. Smith returned 15 minutes later, and told Ziegler not to talk about what occurred.
Anthony Bentley, a jail house informant, testified that Smith told him that he had no idea how hard it took to kill somebody while hitting them in the head with a hammer and was crying and vomiting when the bludgeoning was taking place.
Dr. John Bechinski, the medical examiner for Crawford County, testified that an autopsy concluded that Everson died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Potter read victim impact statements letters on behalf of Everson’s family during the sentencing hearing.
Kay Welch, Everson’s mother, said they did not deserve to lose Dennis and will feel heartache for a long time. She added that Dennis provided Smith with a place to stay when he didn’t have one and fed him food including meals days before he was killed.
Welch suggested Smith say he was sorry and to repent.
“I suggest you join a church group is prison,” Welch wrote in her letter. “It may give you some peace of mind.”
Everson’s younger sister, Tammy Welch, wrote a letter that was more terse, telling Smith that he threw his life away.
“I want him to rot in jail and burn in hell,” Tammy wrote in her letter.
Everson’s brother, Mike Everson, said Smith had no control when the beating occurred, family members will have to live the nightmare of finding Dennis dead in the woods, and would miss him at family gatherings.
“I do find comfort that you have lost your freedom, hopefully for the rest of your life,” Mike wrote in his letter “Sadly, this will never bring my brother back. My brother is very much loved. He will be remembered and forever in our hearts.”
Dennis’ other brother, Ron Everson, wrote that he “forgave” Smith, but will “pray in Jesus’ name to punish you for murder.”
Koch said she did not have much to say beyond what the family had to say in their victim impact statements.
“This crime was horrendous,” Koch said. “This certainly did not need to happen. Mr. Smith has shown no remorse and I would simply ask to the court to follow the recommendation.”
As an advocate, Hesselink said Smith believes he is an innocent man who has been wrongfully convicted.
Hesselink argued that Smith is not a habitual offender with four convictions or more, had no history of violent felony offenses, has no gang affiliations, and had a good employment history.
He asked Mertz to stick with middle of the guidelines on the torture and unlawful imprisonment charge, but acknowledged the judge had discretion on the murder charge other than life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Smith reiterated that he was innocent and wrongfully convicted of a crime that he did not do in his statement to the court.
“Anybody that knows me knows I’m not capable of a crime this heinous,” he said. “I agree that this crime is very heinous, and Dennis didn’t deserve to die, but it wasn’t by my doing.”
Smith said Dennis loved him like he was a son and hoped that one day he will be found innocent of the murder through his pending appeals.
“I am truly sorry for the family and my family’s losses, because I’m truly loved,” he said.
Mertz didn’t buy into any of Smith’s pleas to the court. He said he had a history of assaultive behavior, which did not result in court convictions.
“I think this is something that has been building up for a long time, and unfortunately Mr. Everson was present on the day that it exploded,” Mertz said.
Mertz also pointed out that Smith had very little hope of rehabilitation based on his demeanor, actions, and not being remorseful or affected by testimony in his one-week trial.
“I don’t think you’re innocent at all in any way of this crime. I think your claims are going to fall on deaf ears given the evidence in this case,” Mertz said. “I think your claims are simply some type of way to provide for an appeal for you.”
Mertz sentenced Smith to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for the open murder charge. He was sentenced to 35 to 80 years for the torture charge. And Smith was sentenced to serve 12 years to 22 years and six months for the unlawful imprisonment charge. He was given credit for 695 days served in the Crawford County Jail.
Smith was ordered to pay $3,213.20 in restitution for Everson’s funeral expenses. He was also ordered to pay $204 in state costs, a $130 crime victim’s assessment fee, and $325 in court costs.
During Smith’s trial, Everson’s sons said their dad and Smith had been in previous arguments and physical fights over medical marijuana grow operation Smith had on Everson’s property by his home. They added that arguments were over money and that their dad was uneasy about the marijuana being grown there.
Ziegler was given a plea deal for his testimony in Smith’s trial.
Mertz on Monday, March 16, of this year, sentenced Ziegler to serve just over 11 years to 30 years in prison for torture and seven years to 15 years in prison for manslaughter. He was given credit for 614 days served in jail and was ordered to pay $940 in court costs and fines.